Lead a Charmed Life

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My daughter finds four leaf clovers. Anywhere she goes, she can walk up to a patch of clover and find a four leafed one. Sometimes she’ll find a fiver or a sixer, as she calls them.

It’s rare, this gift for finding the exceptional clover, but to my daughter, this is an ordinary act. She is baffled that other people cannot see the special specimens.

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I’m Not the Best at Anything, Just Like Madonna

not the best

I’m obsessed with Madonna lately because I got to see her in concert this month. I’ve been a casual fan, at best, over the years, but I’ve always admired Madonna. I’ve actually lived by a quote of hers since 1991. These words have shaped me, encouraged me, set a path for me to follow. The quote represents a quarter century of influence.

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3 Ingredients for Accomplishing Any Ridiculous Goal

I am conflicted about ridiculous goals. I believe in them, and I admire people who set them, but I admit to erring on the side of achievable goals. They make me feel better, especially when I cross them off my list. But ridiculous goals are definitely where the money is, where the excitement is, where the fun is.

I have some experience with ridiculous goals. How else could I have transitioned from Certified Public Accountant to best-selling author? (New York Times, I’ll get you yet.) How else could I lead a hyper-talented editorial team to create the #1 country music and lifestyle media property in the whole wide world? How else could I be the primary laundry caretaker for two teenagers, a husband, and a dog?

Ridiculous goals. That’s how.

Ridiculous or practical, the mechanics of accomplishing any goal are the same. And they are not complicated. If you can follow a recipe, you can achieve your goals. You would have to be living under a rock for the last 30 years to have missed the over-abundance of literature (do we call it literature?) on the subject of setting and achieving goals. It’s simple: Set a date, break big dreams into small steps, take action, measure, repeat.

It’s the take action part that most people miss, but that’s another topic for another day.

But before you make the list (or spreadsheet), before you have dates in the calendar, you need some basic ingredients. There are only three: Vision, Skills, and Network.

Those working together will get absolutely anything done.

Vision

This one is tricky, and there are two pieces. First, what do you really want? What is the end goal? Second, and I think more important, is the vision we have of ourselves. Are you the person who will accomplish this particular big thing? Are you the person who will rise above the challenges and circumstances? Are you the person who will persevere when the shit gets tough?

Skills

Let’s assume you know what you want and you’ve convinced yourself you’re the one to do it. Despite your fancy spreadsheets (or humble lists), your committed intention, and your dutiful action, if you do not possess the skills to accomplish your goal, you won’t get very far. Invest in your skills, Invest in understanding what skills are require to get a particular thing done, and then invest in acquiring them. Whether or not you achieve your goal, the skills you build in the process are yours to keep. Warren Buffet famously counsels that this is the best investment anyone can make:

Generally speaking, investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. Anything that improves your own talents; nobody can tax it or take it away from you. They can run up huge deficits and the dollar can become worth far less. You can have all kinds of things happen. But if you’ve got talent yourself, and you’ve maximized your talent, you’ve got a tremendous asset that can return ten-fold.

 

Network

Never underestimate the power of groups, and never give up just because you don’t have the right network, YET. Some of us are born into certain networks, or we acquire them by school, work, or social association. Most of us have to artfully assemble the right people to help us reach our goals.

This year I encouraged my daughter to participate in local year-long fundraising program for a national charity. I wanted her to participate in the program so she would learn to combine the three key ingredients: Vision, Skills, and Network.

I wanted her to see herself as the kind of person who commits and follows through, who steps out into a challenge, an uncomfortable task, an unknown situation, with grace and confidence.

I wanted her to develop the planning and scheduling skills she would need to complete the programs. But mostly, I wanted her to learn how to ask for money, because as I see it, that’s an incredibly valuable skill.

I wanted my daughter to nurture a network with the other girls from different schools and towns.

I’m pretty sure she’s just in it for the dress she will wear to the ball at the end.

That’s okay. A girl’s got to have a goal.


I’d love to visit your group!

Lela Davidson speaking

Need a fun program for the coming year? Invite me to speak! I love to speak to groups of women and will leave your members feeling appreciated and inspired. I have several programs available or I can tailor one to fit your specific needs.

In Celebration of Awkward

Awkward Lela Davidson

My sweet friend Sarah did not post this picture after I spoke at the NWA Technology Summit in November. Instead, she came up to me giggling and asked to take another picture.

“It makes you look really short,” she said. “Like, you-don’t-have-a-torso short.”

I mean, CLEARLY I’m bending over. But, yes. Awkward.

The thing is, that image was the least awkward part of the day. You can tell by the look on my face that I’m happy here with my friend. I feel good, which was not the default of the day.

I beat myself up badly before, during, and after I speak to a group. It doesn’t matter how many people talk to me afterward. It doesn’t matter how many encouraging notes I receive. I literally lost sleep the night after this talk, going over the parts of it where I stumbled, or said something maybe I shouldn’t have.

And don’t get me started on the drama of trying to get dressed for this event. Because it was super Chamber of Commerce, but also super tech. So what– graphic tee, jeans and a blazer? White House Black Market take me away.

Posing like the queen of the munchkin parade was low on the list of things that bothered me that day. My glasses look cute in this shot. Is there anything more important?

This all happened way back a million years ago in November. A few days later I got a reminder that I was not alone in my awkwardness.

That same week two of my heroes were super awkward.

First, Sheryl Sandberg was practically heckled when she encouraged the alpha males at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to lean in to supporting women as peers.

Ouch. Those boys tried to bring her down a peg, that was clear, so much so that their cadet leader scolded them afterward for their poor treatment of their guest. But who can blame them? It’s their job to bring her down a peg, right?

Maybe Sheryl lost sleep, too. And maybe she obsessed over that dress. (Such a great dress.) Or maybe that part is just my issue. Bottom line, Sheryl was not smooth. She was real. And therefore vulnerable.

“Look,” she told CNN. “I could have gone to a million places where they would have loved me. But, I didn’t.” Later she added, “Societal change and cultural change is not always comfortable.”

We’ve got a long way to go, baby.

The same week a friend sent a clip of Madonna’s performance in Stockholm. It was the day after the attacks in Paris. Madge gives a heartfelt monologue about how we need to shine light in the face of all this darkness, to be the light.

Damn, is she awkward. Just absolutely not smooth.

Aren’t we all so lucky that these two amazing women, my teachers, my role models (don’t act like Borderline didn’t change lives) can show us their awkwardness? Because if they in their power and privilege can’t be awkward, how can we feel okay with looking like a circus attraction once in a while? But they can, so I will.

Won’t you join me?


Books Make Great Gifts!

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Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon,
NookiTunes and other places books are sold.

 

Image: Sarah Hood

Do You Have a Super Hero?

Here is the mug a dear friend gave me a few years ago. This friend took a chance on my writing when she started her magazine. We have since started and run a successful business together. Over coffee and slide decks, we dream of future ventures. When she gave me the mug, a Christmas gift I think, she said, “You are a Wonder Woman to me, Lela.”

super hero

Every time I use this mug I remember those words and they encourage me.

I know, it’s just a mug. But I’m a mug person. I still have the mug I received from my very first real(ish) job. My Bellingham National Bank mug is 25 years old. I haven’t managed to break it yet. That one reminds me of the super powers it took to overcome my circumstances at the time (unhealthy relationship, ill-advised “break” from college, questionable 1990s fashion choices, etc.), and make the decisions I needed to make in order to own my own life. And the friends I made at that job. The mug reminds me of them too.

But back to Wonder Woman, because this post is about super heroes. I want to identify with a super hero, so that in my darker moments I’ll have one more tool to make me feel that ‘I can do this thing!’ energy we all need sometimes to power through. Wonder Woman is worthy, and what a sweet compliment from my friend. But I’m not so sure Wonder Woman is the one for me. Just minutes ago she was covered in crusted chocolate, the result of an unfortunate microwave hot cocoa incident. Seems like she would know better, or do better, or jet off in her invisible plane to a land where cocoa never runneth over. Not me.

I have plenty of real life heroes, women (and men) I know who accomplish amazing things or exhibit the qualities I wish I possessed. It’s important to have these people to look up to, but these real life heroes are not super heroes. They are role models. No matter how lovely, they are still human. They still fail. While they deserve our admiration, we can’t hold real people to super standards.

But a superhero, she can take it.

Business coach Erika Lyremark talks about creating “compact super heroes,” different personalities you can fit in your pocket. Each with unique super powers to get you through any situation. I like that idea, too. You create the heroes you need for a given situation. Still, I want the one. My special super girl.

What I don’t want is the busty, half-naked comic book femme fatale, leaping across rooftops and fighting crime. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but she doesn’t feel like me. Check out Wonder Woman. She is fierce. She is an Amazon.

I am an awkward, say-the-wrong-thing, tiny girl. I like to do yoga and read personal essays. My super power is spreadsheets, which is just not very dramatic, or literary, or conducive to cool costumes. A few months ago I got really excited about a cleaning cloth. Not my best moment. But on this side of 45, I can own all that. And thank goodness, right? Because I must now qualify as middle-aged despite my determination to live to 100. And ladies of a certain age, while we don’t have to grow up (oh, but, never!) we do have to give something back. We do have to be comfortable in our own un-super skin.

So I’m thinking Dorothy Gale. You know, the girl who travelled all the way to Oz to find out her powers were inside her all the time. And do not even try to tell me she is not a super hero. She leads a motley crew through an unknown land, and helps each of them find what they desperately desire. She doesn’t put up with any crap from flying monkeys or bad witches or the man behind the curtain. That’s the kind of power I’d like to tap each day.

And I love sparkly shoes. And pig tails.

Dorothy it is.

Maybe someday I’ll grow up to be Glinda the Good Witch.

But not yet. I still have a lot of traveling to do.

You know what super heroes are extra good for? Helping you fake your balance when everything threatens to tip you right over. 

Also great for that, encouraging words from my latest book: Faking Balance: Adventures in Work and Life.


Books Make Great Gifts!

Screen shot 2015-08-16 at 9.09.26 PM

Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon,
NookiTunes and other places books are sold.

 

Image: Lela Davidson

Introducing Second Story Writer’s Workshop

The first thing I did when I got to town, after hooking up the cable (it was 13 years ago) and locating the nearest Walmart, was find a group of Northwest Arkansas writers. For quite a while now I’ve been looking for a similar group writing experience. There are many wonderful options, like the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop, one of the largest and most active writing community in Northwest Arkansas with many accomplished writers, especially in the areas of western, romance, paranormal, and Ozark history. Several other groups are listed on Arkansas Writers. Write By Night is another good resource.

Despite all these wonderful area groups, I decided to start my own Northwest Arkansas writer’s workshop. Not the least of my reasons is that if I run the workshop I get to pick when, where, and how the workshop meets.

In addition to my personal scheduling concerns, I also believe that Northwest Arkansas writers are ready for something a little different. I believe we are ready for a smiley, sparkly, smirky group writing experience.

In Second Story Writer’s Workshop, no experience is required. This is not a workshop that caters to “published” writers or “serious” writers or “talented” writers. Although if you are any or all those things, we welcome you. Second Story Writer’s Workshop is for people who want to write. Period.

And because a writer is someone who writes, we’re going to get you writing. Right away.

I can absolutely promise you that writers — new, old, lapsed, and those currently only dreaming of writing — will leave workshop sessions with ideas and drafts that are seeds for stories, poems, essays, articles, or entire books. Writers will also leave with concrete skills and tools they can use over and over again to keep the words moving onto the page.

Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop

What is Second Story Writer’s Workshop?

Second Story Writer’s Workshop is a structured group writing experience for anyone who wants to write. All you need is a notebook and a pen. You can use a pencil, but it’ll smudge.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop is a place to hear the truth about your words. And the truth is that everyone can tell beautiful and powerful stories. We help you find your truest, best voice and practice using it more often.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop builds your creative confidence, session by session. Because you’re not getting out the door without having scribbled some words onto the page. We will tie you to the chair if we have to. With nice ribbon.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop gives writers tools to cut through procrastination and overwhelm so that they spend less time thinking about writing and more time actually writing.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop is not specifically focused on publishing, but who are we kidding? Every writer I know wants to be published like a dog wants a bone. We will help you get there and celebrate your success when you do.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop is super supportive and ridiculous fun.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop helps writers of all experience and commitment levels make time and space to write, and to get feedback on their works in progress.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop ensures that those who want to write, write.

Second Story Writers Workshop is pure creative goodness, group support, and professional insights, wrapped in a bow and delivered with a smile, a sparkle, and a smirk.

How Does Second Story Writer’s Workshop Work?

Second Story Writer’s Workshop is modeled on the Amherst Method. We treat all writing as fiction, and the leader writes along and participates as a member of the workshop. The work we do is appropriate for total beginners to total pros, and everyone in between.

Every week we will spend brief periods actually writing to a prompt that is designed to teach a specific concept, or designed allow writers practice a particular technique. These writing exercises are structured, but allow for complete freedom for the writer to work in any genre, and to direct the writing in any way that works for them. Writers will have the opportunity, but never the obligation, to read fresh writing out loud to the group to get feedback on the parts that are especially strong.

Writers will also be able to submit manuscript pages to the group for responses, or they can choose to keep their writing private. Every writer will be supported and nudged into a deeper relationship with their writing, emerging as a more confident, more creative writer.

Update: The Winter 2016 session is full. To keep in touch about future sessions, please add your name to the dedicated list here: 




 

Coming Soon: Second Story Writer’s Workshop

For quite a while now I’ve been looking for a group writing experience that would fit into my schedule. I wanted something that provided structure, but also left a lot of room for play. I wanted to get a little feedback on my work, but not too much. I wanted to learn from other writers without getting buried in dozens of pages to respond to every week. I wanted to be challenged and coddled at the same time.

Basically, I wanted it all and I wanted it the way I wanted it.

I know a lot of other writers, used-to-be writers, and wannabe writers who want it that way, too.

I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I decided to build it.

Introducing Second Story Writer’s Workshop.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop is super supportive and ridiculous fun.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop helps writers of all experience and commitment levels make time and space to write, and to get feedback on their works in progress.

Second Story Writer’s Workshop ensures that those who want to write, write.

Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop

No experience is required. This is not a workshop that caters to “published” writers or “serious” writers or “talented” writers. Although if you are any or all those things, we welcome you. Second Story Writer’s Workshop is for people who want to be writers. Period.

A writer is someone who writes, and we’re going to get you writing.

I can absolutely promise you that writers — new, old, lapsed, and those currently only dreaming of writing — will leave workshop sessions with ideas and drafts that are seeds for stories, poems, essays, articles, or entire books. Writers will also leave with concrete skills and tools they can use over and over again to keep the words moving onto the page.

Second Story Writers Workshop is pure creative confidence, wrapped in a bow and delivered with a smile, a sparkle, and a smirk.

Our first session begins in January, and will be open to a very limited number of writers.

Details coming soon.

To be the first to learn how to participate in our very first session, please provide your email below. Even if you already receive my messages, I’d like your email again here to keep you informed about all things Second Story. If you’re not ready yet, but think you might be soon, please get on the list now. You never know when the time will be right to write!




Here’s to our big adventure!

I’ll be in touch soon.

Lela

Please note, this is a local Northwest Arkansas, in-person workshop. No online or remote option is available at this time. 

How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

How Long to Write a Book?

Most people I meet are curious about how long it takes to write a book. I suspect writers ask because they are secretly comparing their process to mine, or they are calculating the free hours in their days, ever convinced that if they only had more time… Non-writers express disbelief that anyone has time to write a coherent thank-you note, let alone a whole book. As an author, when I see the final product, I’m still amazed that it all came out of me. All by myself (almost) I made each and every word fit together in a little puzzle of sense until it meant something to someone else. A book is a tiny miracle when you really stop to think about all the processes that had to combine in order for it to live.

From the initial idea, to the awful first drafts, to the editing, more editing, so much editing, and then all the logistics of getting the words into a format others can consume, and ideally, pay for. It’s all so much work.

For Faking Balance: Adventures in Work and Life, it all went down like this.

April 2013
Drafted the initial essays for the collection through a program of structured writing prompts offered by the writing coach I’ve been working with for years, Christina Katz. I had a vague idea that I wanted to write about the challenges women face on the work/home front. This was the 2nd or 3rd time I’d completed Christina’s 21 Moments program, and I had decided this time to focus on moments at work dating back to the decision to get pregnant while working as an accountant all those years ago. Christina doesn’t offer this program anymore, but at the time you could pay a nominal fee to receive daily examples of great writing as inspiration, as well as a reminder to sit and write one moment each day. By the end of three weeks I had 50 pages of raw material. It was mostly decent and definitely focused around my theme because I had selected the 21 moments I would flesh out ahead of time. I wasn’t sitting down each day to free write. I had a specific moment in mind each day. Time elapsed: 21 days.

May 2013 – July 2014:
Time to turn that raw material into actual essays. I had to fill in around whatever moment I had written, providing context and finding the relevant and compelling story for each. Then I had to fill in the blanks, find interesting moments in between the ones I had written, because unlike my two previous books, I wanted this collection to have a narrative arc, which is fancy writer talk for a beginning, middle, and end. Starting a new job in August of 2013 (the first time working in an office for more than 6 years) put a cramp in the writing schedule. My singular focus during that time was getting enough material to go into the editing phase. Time elapsed: 1 year 3 months.

July 2014 – January 2015:
Now we’re getting to the fun stuff. Sculptors just have to carve away at their raw material. Writers first have to create the raw material, and only after they have done so do they get to shape it. Granted, there was a lot of editing while drafting, getting essays into a form that was truly worthy of showing another human. That process also informs the drafting of new work that supports the overall theme. For the editing in earnest, I worked with an amazing editor who helped ensure this book had a true through line, or narrative arc that I mentioned earlier. Time elapsed: 7 months.

February 2015 – September 2015:
Publishing. Distribution. Marketing. All of this takes much, much longer than you think it should. It’s just forever, and that’s working with an independent publisher. I have no idea how long these things take at a big New York house. I plan to find out someday. During this time I settled on a cover, saw the preliminary listing on Amazon come, and that beloved first print order came through. A retailer actually believing the book is salable is an important milestone. Time elapsed: 8 months.

Total time elapsed from first draft to publication: 2 years and 5 months. Which is actually extraordinarily fast for 100% new material. That is, dare I say, pretty good.

Beyond: Now I have another title, another product, to market forever. To reference and remember and celebrate and sometimes cringe when I will later undoubtedly see things I wish I would have done differently. After that, life goes on. Time elapsed: Unknown.

There it is, in case you wanted to know. Let me know your process in the comments, and please take a look at the finished product here and see if the book is one you can recommend to others. Thanks!


Books Make Great Gifts!

Screen shot 2015-08-16 at 9.09.26 PM

Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon,
NookiTunes and other places books are sold.